Kansas City’s record of preserving historic buildings is spotty at best.
Every recent victory — the Kansas City Ballet’s Bolender Center, the Cosby Hotel — fades in the wake of disappointing losses and prolonged and usually unsuccessful battles to save deserving structures. The fate of three Tudor-style apartment buildings by architect Nelle Peters on the Country Club Plaza is on the front burner at the moment. And the future of Kemper Arena, a relatively young (1974) but important piece of modern architecture, awaits the feasibility of redevelopment proposals.
Communities forever weigh the value of their history against the opportunities of “progress.” The deck often seems to be stacked against historic architecture. And for modern buildings such as Kemper Arena, the challenge is even greater because “modern” seems so poorly defined and somehow less “historic.”
This spring the nonprofit Historic Kansas City Foundation placed the general category of modern architecture on its annual list of endangered places. And this week the foundation and the city’s Historic Preservation Office launched an effort to wrap their arms around the modern buildings of Kansas City.
The goal is to take an inventory of commercial, industrial, religious, multifamily and public structures built from 1945 to 1975. Brad Wolf, the city’s historic preservation officer, estimates that a corps of volunteers will gather data on as many as 2,500 buildings — from eclectic hamburger stands to notable office buildings — by the end of the year. A consultant will sift and categorize the information, creating an important baseline for defining modernism in Kansas City and determining what kinds of buildings are worth preserving.
It’s a laudable and necessary project.